Local rugby players add to title collection
Former Muskego stars help UW-Whitewater to championship
Darin Heinrich, Nick Sindic and Greg Boehm, all of Muskego, know something about championship rugby and saw that kind of potential in their 2010-11 University of Wisconsin-Whitewater club team.
"We knew going into this season that we would have a good team and we could take it to (the national tournament)," said Boehm, a sophomore who played inside center.
As it turned out, Whitewater not only reached the national event for the second straight season but won the championship with a tough 7-3 triumph over Middlebury College of Vermont in the final.
Whitewater finished 20-0, winning the Midwest and Wisconsin Collegiate championships in the fall season, then sweeping through five preparation matches this spring before capturing the USA Rugby Tournament crown.
Heinrich, Sindic and Boehm were no strangers to championships, having played on the highly successful Muskego High School rugby club teams of a few years ago.
Heinrich and Sindic were on the squads that claimed back-to-back state crowns in 2005 and 2006, while Boehm was also on that 2006 team as well as the 2007 unit (fourth at state) and the 2008 group (fifth at state).
Those three, along with fellow Muskego resident Danny Krause and Luke Kopp of the Town of Vernon, enjoyed being part of a championship squad at another level this year.
All three said the key ingredient for Whitewater this season was an improved team attitude.
"This was the most dedicated team I have ever played on; everyone really wanted to win," said Boehm. "I played for Muskego High School and a local men's club team, and there, some people would miss practices or games. At college this year, everyone was there every day at practice, which meant we could work on more stuff."
Sindic, a fifth-year senior who was also at inside center, added, "My first year here, the team was just OK, but every year after that, we became more businesslike."
Heinrich, another fifth-year senior who handled the key fly half position, echoed those feelings.
"In the beginning," he said, "this was more of a social thing than competition, but that changed. Everyone worked hard in the off-season and people made their schedules around the practices."
Coach Pat O'Connor noticed the increased desire this season as well.
Commitment by each player
"The players were committed to winning by preparing themselves physically and mentally," O'Connor said. "Attendance was high at indoor training this winter as they hardened themselves for the run to the championship. They also spent more time reviewing game films and learning.
"Finally, two starting players postponed December graduations to stay in school for their last semester of eligibility to see the team to victory. Darin Heinrich had played for me for nine semesters, and when we won the Midwest championship (in fall), I started talking to him and his parents about staying around for the spring semester. The family agreed to support Darin in his 10th semester, and it was an investment we are all grateful for."
Heinrich, who signed up for two additional classes in spring, was pleased with his decision.
"I saw we had the potential to do even better (than in the fall season)," he said. "The position I play, the fly half, is kind of like the quarterback in football, running the team. I didn't want to leave the guys stranded. I had seen some success and it was nice to finish it off."
Early routs, always tough
Whitewater began the season with 12 returning starters from a team that had advanced to the national tournament in 2010, so expectations were already high.
The team blew through its fall slate with winning scores like 79-5, 89-8 and 58-0 to win the state crown. After the semester break, Whitewater returned and was as dominant in the spring.
Finally, when the USA Rugby Tournament rolled around, the team was ready. In the early rounds, it dispatched two traditionally strong programs, beating California-Fullerton, 46-5, and California Maritime, 36-19.
"Wisconsin is not known for top-level rugby," Boehm said. "We knew we could make it to nationals, but we didn't know what we could do there. We knew Fullerton was a good team and expected a tough game, but it was a blowout. After that, we thought, hey, we have a shot at this. Cal Maritime was another rout, and no one expected that."
Boehm, who actually had to sit out the games after tearing an ACL, said the offense was the key to the victories.
"Watching from the sidelines, I noticed that every time we touched the ball, everything was working our way," he said. "We made some mistakes, but then we made adjustments. We knew we could adjust to adversity, and we played smart rugby."
Sindic added, "In both games, we got some early scores, then just kept up the momentum."
Whitewater then downed Sierra College, 29-20, in the national semifinal and tipped Middlebury in the final.
"Middlebury was a phenomenal team," Boehm said. "I have never seen a harder-played game in my life. It was a defensive battle. They were minutes away from beating us, but we came out on top."
Boehm said it was difficult being just a spectator for the tournament but enjoyed watching his teammates.
"As much as I hated being on the sidelines," he said, "I was happy for the team and I know I helped them get here."
As Boehm's sentiments indicate, Whitewater was an especially tight-knit unit.
"Those 15 on the field played as one," O'Connor said. "There were no egos, no 'I need to score more' or 'If I do this, I will stand out.' "
Sindic added, "There was a brotherhood and cameraderie. This is a difficult game physically and mentally. Being out there with 14 other guys, and working together and winning a championship, was awesome."
RUN OF SUCCESS
Here are the Whitewater rugby club team's scores leading up to the national tournament:
UWW 55, Marquette 17
UWW 79, MSOE 5
UWW 56, N. Michigan 10
UWW 51, UW-Parkside 0
UWW 89, UW-Madison 8
UWW 58, UW-La Crosse 0
UWW 36, UW-Milwaukee 0
UWW 46, Illinois 7
UWW 34, N. Illinois 15
UWW 34, St. John's 14
UWW 33, Michigan State 12
UWW 50, Truman State 5
UWW 51, Wisconsin Select 10
UWW 48, N. Illinois 22
UWW 42, UW-Stout 0
UWW 34, UW-Madison 13
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